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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In his big budget proposal Monday, President Trump offered a novel idea: Instead of giving needy people stamps they can redeem for food, why not just give them actual food?

As you might guess, liberals were enraged by the notion. How dare Mr. Trump try to take food stamps away from hungry people and give them — of all things — food?


Here’s how the liberal HuffPost saw it: “Facing a trillion-dollar deficit because of his just-passed tax cuts, President Donald Trump has an idea for how to get some of that money back: making poor people eat beans and rice.”

Oh, the humanity!

Currently, food stamps — known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — are provided for some 42 million people, 80 percent of whom get food vouchers each month worth at least $90 per person. They can be redeemed at many stores for food, but the program is rife with abuse.

For example, an Oregon minimart owner was recently sentenced to nearly two years behind bars after being convicted for food stamp fraud totaling $189,000. In that case, prosecutors said he overcharged food stamp recipients’ benefit cards and then gave them in cash half of what he’d overcharged.

Under the Trump proposal, those 80 percent of all SNAP recipients would get about half of their benefits in the form of a “USDA Foods package,” NPR reported. “The package was described in the budget as consisting of ‘shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables.’”

The program would be called “America’s Harvest Box.” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called it “a bold, innovative approach to providing nutritious food to people who need assistance feeding themselves and their families — and all of it is home-grown by American farmers and producers.”

Here’s the nut graf from the NPR story: “The USDA believes that state governments will be able to deliver this food at much less cost than SNAP recipients currently pay for food at retail stores — thus reducing the overall cost of the SNAP program by $129 billion over the next 10 years. This and other changes in the SNAP program, according to the Trump administration, will reduce the SNAP budget by $213 billion over those years — cutting the program by almost 30 percent.”

Good plan, right? Wrong, according to NPR.

“Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a hunger advocacy group that also helps clients access food-assistance services, said the administration’s plan left him baffled. ‘They have managed to propose nearly the impossible, taking over $200 billion worth of food from low-income Americans while increasing bureaucracy and reducing choices,’ Berg says.

“He says SNAP is efficient because it is a ‘free market model’ that lets recipients shop at stores for their benefits. The Trump administration’s proposal, he said, ‘is a far more intrusive, Big Government answer. They think a bureaucrat in D.C. is better at picking out what your family needs than you are?’”

Well … Mr. Trump has succeeded in suddenly getting liberals to decry Big Brother and embrace the free market!

Amazing.

And a far cry from former President Barack Obama, who will be remembered for driving millions to seek aid from the government (as Democrats love). In 2009, when he took office, there were 33.5 million people on food stamp benefits; in October 2016, just a few months before he left office, that number had skyrocketed to 44.2 million — a 32 percent jump of almost 11 million people.

The cost of the program to taxpayers rose from $50.3 billion to $66.6 billion — all while the Obama administration pushed the idea that the economy was booming (it wasn’t). As the unemployment rate dropped (mainly due to Obama officials reducing the number of people considered in the “workforce”), millions were forced onto food stamps.

But that “hope and change” has been replaced by four simple words: “Make America Great Again.”

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show nearly 1.5 million Americans have gotten off the food stamp rolls since Mr. Trump took office in January 2017, a 3.5 percent drop in less than a year.

Still, liberals argue that Mr. Trump’s plan would be embarrassing for food stamp recipients, forced to receive free food.

“Among the problems, it’s going to be costly and take money out of the [SNAP] program from the administrative side. It’s going to stigmatize people when they have to go to certain places to pick up benefits,” Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, told NPR.

Well, there’s a way to change that: Get a job and get off food stamps. There’s a “free market idea” for you.

Joseph Curl has covered politics for 25 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent at The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @josephcurl.


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